Disappearing sea snakes surprise researchers with hidden genetic diversity—8 December 2017

New research from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University (JCU) suggests there is an urgent need to find out why sea snakes are disappearing from known habitats, after they discovered some seemingly identical sea snake populations are actually genetically distinct from each other and can’t simply repopulate if one group dies out.   

JCU researcher, Dr Vimoksalehi Lukoschek, collected genetic samples from more than 550 sea snakes around Australia. She said scientists were previously unaware of how genetically different sea snake populations on the Western Australian (WA) coast were from populations on reefs in the Timor Sea, Gulf of Carpentaria and the Great Barrier Reef.

“The previously unappreciated genetic distinctiveness in coastal Western Australia is critically important. It means that this region is home to genetic diversity not found elsewhere in Australia. If those populations die out, then that biodiversity and potential for adaptation is lost forever,” said Dr Lukoschek.  

“Also, genetic differences of sea snakes between reefs around Australia mean that if a species disappears from a particular reef, they are unlikely to be replenished by dispersal of juveniles or adults from adjacent reefs.” 

Media issued by the the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

Image: A sea snake.
Image credit: Rick Stuart Smith wwww.reeflifesurvey.com.

Original Published Date: 
Friday, December 8, 2017